Using Ethanol to Grow Algae

By Kolby Hoagland | June 13, 2013

The 2013 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo (FEW) came to a close this Thursday, capping off four days of 120+ presentations, industry tours, a massive expo floor, and more networking events than one could possibly attend. I was fortunate to have the role as a moderator of a panel in the Cellulosic & Advanced Ethanol track at this year’s FEW. The panel that I moderated was titled ‘Understanding the Growing Role of Algae in the Continuing Evolution of Biofuels Production’. The panelists discussed, at length, the opportunities and impediments of algae as a feedstock for biofuels and bio-based chemicals. The highlight of the panel came when Jim Stark, VP of Investor and Media Relations for Green Plains Renewable Energy, Inc. gave an update on BioProcess Algae’s plant in Shenandoah. BioProcess Algae LLC is a collaborative venture made by Green Plains Renewable Energy, Clarcor, and BioProcessH2O LLC in a co-located algae production facility at Green Plains Renewable Energy’s 65 MMgy ethanol plant Shenandoah, IA plant. A portion of the CO2 emitted from the ethanol plant’s fermentation process is piped to BioProcess Algae’s photo-bioreactors that lie adjacent to the ethanol plant. Fertilized by the CO2, the algae proliferate in the photo-bioreactors in Shenandoah to produce a lipid rich biomass feedstock. In his presentation, Mr. Stark hailed the recent installation of an algae dryer, thus giving BioProcess Algae the ability to completely dry the algae down into “algae flake” for eventual sale in a variety of markets. The algae-ethanol integration in Shenandoah exemplifies an innovative adaptation for first generation ethanol plants to profitably evolve into generation 1.5 and 2 plants. Noting that profitability is their main motive, Mr. Stark did not hesitate to point to the nutraceutical, animal feed, and biofuels markets as areas where there is currently a demand for algae. And, with the help of ethanol, Mr. Stark and his colleagues are poised to provide algae to numerous markets.